Greece to deport 10,000 refugees to Turkey in wake of fatal camp blaze

A migrant sleeps outside at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, on September 30, 2019, following a fire at the refugee camp which houses some 13,000 people. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2019

Greece to deport 10,000 refugees to Turkey in wake of fatal camp blaze

  • The Moria refugee camp was already operating beyond its capacity and under deteriorating conditions before the fire took hold
  • It is considered to be Europe’s most crowded site, housing more than 13,000 refugees when designed to take just 3,000

ANKARA: Greece has decided to deport 10,000 refugees to Turkey by the end of next year in the wake of a deadly fire at an overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos.
Following criticisms after Sunday’s blaze, which left one woman dead and 17 people injured two of them children, the Greek Cabinet held a four-hour emergency meeting when the decision was made.
The Moria refugee camp was already operating beyond its capacity and under deteriorating conditions before the fire took hold. It is considered to be Europe’s most crowded site, housing more than 13,000 refugees when designed to take just 3,000.
Lesbos has become one of the main destinations for refugees in recent years with around 10,000 new arrivals on the island over the last three months alone, according to the Greek government.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a conservative politician, is known for his hard-line approach to his country’s migrant crisis.
An agreement signed between Turkey and the EU in 2016, allowed Athens to send back illegal immigrants to its neighbor, Turkey, which has in return received financial assistance from Brussels.
Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, director of the Center for International and European Studies (CIES) at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, said that as opposed to 2015 and 2016, most of those now trying to reach the Greek islands were not from Syria but Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“As a result, the Greek government is stressing a distinction between refugees, those seeking asylum status, and irregular migrants. The latter category in particular consists of individuals not in need of international protection, who are not Syrian, which Greece intends to speed up efforts to return to Turkey as per the EU-Turkey refugee deal,” he told Arab News.
“Because of the inability to rapidly process all applications, only about 1,800 have been returned to Turkey from Greece since 2016.”
According to Triantaphyllou, although Greece had established structures and processes to deal with the spike in the number of refugees, asylum seekers, and illegal migrants since 2015, its problems had been compounded by the 200 percent rise in arrivals over the last five months.
“Some islands are unable to cope with the increased inflows with tremendous pressure on the ability of the local communities showing empathy,” he added.
For this reason, Triantaphyllou said, Greece was trying to internationalize the issue in order to allow for the development of a more targeted policy on the part of the EU, while Greek authorities were aware that the refugee flows were part of a larger power play between Ankara and the EU.
Athens is also planning to increase naval patrols in the Aegean Sea and build camps specifically for “illegal” immigrants and those refused asylum.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is expected to visit Greece and Turkey this week, accompanied by German and French interior ministers, to discuss the refugee crisis.
Last month, the German government also called on Greece to deport migrants to Turkey.
Omar Kadkoy, a Syrian-origin researcher on refugee integration at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said Turkey must ensure the EU acted upon the promises made under the 2016 agreement.
“The statement clearly says that for every Syrian returned from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU. This should be the protocol governing Greece’s new announcement. It is true that the number of Syrians resettled to the EU exceeds the ones returned from Greece, but the number represents only one-third of what the statement indicates,” he told Arab News.
Kadkoy added that Turkey should also use the new announcement as a wake-up call for the so-called “coalition of the willing,” which had so far failed to establish a feasible responsibility-sharing mechanism among EU member states.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said one of the reasons for an increased flow of refugees to Greece was their fear of being forced back to Syria.
“Turkey’s government shouldn’t be sending anyone back to Syria. It is not the least bit safe,” he told Arab News. “In the meantime, other European nations should accept more refugees so the responsibility for processing and housing them does not rest solely with Greece, which is just emerging from its economic crisis.”
Roth also noted that the Dublin rules, which state that responsibility for processing and housing asylum seekers rests solely with the country where they land, were wrong and should be abolished.
“Just as European governments have begun to share that responsibility for asylum seekers arriving from Libya to Italy, so they should share the responsibility for those arriving from Turkey to Greece,” he said.


Finland’s new young female prime minister breaks the mold

Updated 09 December 2019

Finland’s new young female prime minister breaks the mold

  • Sanna Marin will be Finland’s third female government leader
  • Women have been present in politics in the Nordic region for decades and today represent half of the party leaders in Sweden

COPENHAGEN: Finland’s next government is breaking the mold in multiple ways.
Sanna Marin, the 34-year-old transport minister, was tapped over the weekend by the ruling Social Democratic Party to be Finland’s new prime minister. When she takes the reins of the country, most likely on Tuesday, she will become the world’s youngest sitting head of government.
In another unusual development, Marin will head a coalition with four other parties that are all led by women — three of whom are in their early 30s. Her own biography also breaks the mold: Raised by a single mother, she has described feeling discriminated against in Finland when her mother was in a relationship with another woman.
Elina Penttinen, a lecturer in gender studies at the University of Helsinski, said the rise of so many women is “exceptional” not only by the standards of the wider world, where older men hold most power, but even by the standards of Finland, which regularly ranks as one of the best countries in the world for gender equality.
“Here it seems pretty amazing, too,” she said.
The Social Democrats emerged as the strongest party after Finland’s election in April. Antti Rinne, the incumbent prime minister whom Marin is replacing, stepped down last week amid political turmoil caused by a strike of postal workers. Rinne says he plans to continue as the Social Democrats’ leader until a party congress next summer.
Penttinen described Marin as a talented politician known for her leadership skills whose progressive program stresses combating climate change, protecting thecountry’s famous social protections like health care and reaching out to young people.
Finland, like much of the West, has seen a rise in right-wing populists and the nationalist Finns Party did well in April election, though centrist and left-wing parties won most votes and together could govern in the multi-party coalition.
“I hope it’s a sign of more change to come against populists, especially in the age of Trump and populism,” Penttinen said.
A tweet by a journalist for Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat with photos of the quintet drew attention online by visually underscoring the idea of rising female power in politics.
Marin will become the youngest-serving leader of a government in the world, beating out Ukraine’s 35-year-old prime minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk. She might not hold that title for long, however. Sebastian Kurz, the 33-year-old former Austrian chancellor who rose to that position when he was 31, won an election in September and is in talks to form a new governing coalition that would put him back in the job.
Marin joins a small group of female leaders who have sought to counteract the rise of populism. That group includes Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova, 46, a progressive whose election this year bucked the trend of populism and nationalism in Central Europe.
And like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern — who is 39 — Marin is a new mother, having given birth to a daughter last year.
A lawmaker since 2015, Marin is the party’s vice chairwoman and was minister for transport and communications in the outgoing government.
Lawmakers are likely to approve the new government this week so Marin can represent Finland at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Finland holds the EU’s rotating presidency until the end of the year.
Beside Marin, the coalition’s other party leaders are 32-year-old Katri Kulmuni of the Center Party; the Left Alliance’s Li Andersson, 32; Maria Ohisalo, the 34-year-old leader of the Greens; and the head of the Swedish People’s Party, Anna-Maja Henriksson, who at 55 is the oldest.
The coalition will have a comfortable majority of 117 seats in the 200-seat Eduskunta, or Parliament.
The Center Party announced Monday that Kulmuni will be the finance minister in the new government.
Marin will be Finland’s third female government leader. Women have been present in politics in the Nordic region for decades and today represent half of the party leaders in Sweden. Four of Denmark’s nine parties are headed by women.
Mette Frederiksen became Denmark’s prime minister in June, while Erna Solberg has been Norway’s head of government since 2013.
Iceland’s Vigdis Finnbogadottir was the first woman to be democratically elected as head of state by voters when she defeated three men for the presidency in 1980.